I love scary.
For the story I’m working on, I wanted to stick a shaky finger right into what scares me. Fear changes as we age. Stakes are higher. There really are things that can knife you where it hurts, and not just physically. Being personally helpless is bad enough. But the thought of not being able to keep safe the ones in my charge is heart-stopping. So, it becomes a matter of the ‘where’ and the ‘who’, that build the scaffold so the scary ‘what’ can climb through the window of your worst nightmare.
When I write, I sometimes start with the place. For this one, it’s New York City. Love it. And it scares the shit out of me. Don’t think I’m alone in saying place can be frankly terrifying, but that risk is what makes it singularly spectacular. Nothing to do with vandals and muggers. It’s bigger and less precise. It’s the feeling of being lost and finding yourself just this side of overwhelmed and incapacitated is what makes it magic in its majesty. For this story, it is the perfect place to be in love, or be blissfully personally or professionally fulfilled, or to be scared to the base of your soul.
More specific than place is the people. What about people? Most are just lousy, but not scary. But the thought of being without your people, your circle, losing one of your crew, losing yourself, the ones you love. That’s what scares me. So in writing about something that shakes you to your core, you also consider what you love the most and would be most lost without.
The piece I’m tossing up here today takes a sweeping glance at those things. Being not only geographically at sea, but being unprepared, ill-equipped, without information and assistance. And because of that, standing to lose someone barely a chance to reach out a hand to pull them back to you. That thought keeps me up at night.
So, pulling back the curtain for a peek, here is a sample of my new short story. A work in progress, to be sure. But the general scent of the thing.
147 E. 9th St.
She was moving in slow motion, steps and half frames and she watched in fractions of centimeters the door frame scrape the skin from the knuckle of her middle finger and she saw, but didn’t feel, the blood surface above the skin. First in tiny, segmented pixel dots until they multiplied and then assembled into a line of red that crept to her wrist. Every time she turned her cheap key copy in the lock of her boyfriend’s apartment, she banged her knuckles. But she had never been in this much of a hurry. But moving so slowly. The key fell from the lock and crashed on the welcome mat. A drop of blood fell on silver and gold when she scooped them up and jammed the key back into the lock. Through the window she could still see him. Shawn. Slumped in his chair. Wrong. Crooked and stiff. Like he was immovable. Not drunk. Not sleeping. Trapped in his own locked body. Finally the door gave way and she pushed her way inside to him.
Her mind went blank. They had only been dating a few months. It had come on hard and fast between them. She thought she had played it cool, making him wait until the third date to sleep with him. Only to come flying into his bed not even twelve hours later. By the end of the second month, she’d met his mother and had a key to his place. But right know, she realized knew nothing about this man.
“Shawn. Shawn!” she yelled. He didn’t flinch. She dropped to her knees in from of him. His neck was extended back, not just looking to the ceiling but past it. HIs arms were fully extended, fingers gripped on the chair. She shook him. HIs body moved in one steel piece, not in any fleshy segments. His phone was on the floor by her knees. The screen was black. Dead. She ran to her bag, searching. She gave up and turned it upside down, crawling into the pile of purse debris.
“SHIT!” she screamed, skidding change and mints and a tampon across the floor as she flailed her arm. Somehow her arm crashed down to her hip and she felt her own phone, jutting out of her back pocket. It took her four tries with as many deletes, but she finally dialed 911.
She didn’t remember saying anything. The phone was somewhere near her and she tried to listen. To hear for a heartbeat, to feel for breathing. She left him to run back to the front door. She couldn’t remember his apartment number. No, she didn’t know if her was epileptic. No she didn’t know if he was diabetic. Or allergic to cilantro. No she didn’t think he took drugs. Did she know? No. She just knew it looked like he was dying in front of her.
I’ll let you know what form this takes as more of it unfolds. Until then, happy haunting.